It has been announced today that from the 2017 National Rugby Championship (NRC), Fiji Rugby will enter a team. In a historic first for the Pacific island nation, Fiji will look to establish a completely locally sourced squad. With all of their home games being played in Fiji, hosting all of the Australian NRC sides in a two year cycle. Many may see this as only a small step forward but ultimately it is a massive boost to Fiji Rugby and other Pacific nations as they continue to look for parity with the tier one countries.
World Rugby Endorsement
Fiji’s brand of rugby is well known to almost anyone who has took to a rugby pitch. With Fijian players sprinkled across the globe Fiji Rugby had paid its dues for the recognition it deserves. The Chairman of World Rugby, Bill Beaumont has praised the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) for ‘embracing this opportunity.’ The backing of this move by World Rugby pays dividends to those behind the scenes looking to further expand the sport. Beaumont reiterated this saying;
“The Pacific Islands play a major role in the sport’s heritage and future and World Rugby is committed to working with our friends and colleagues in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to further assist them with the unique challenges that they face.”
Fiji Rugby Plans for 2019
Fiji Rugby will now have an alternative to offer its rising stars other than the only route available now, overseas clubs. With this in mind Fiji will look to develop a squad with far greater depth building towards the 2019 Rugby World Cup. A point summed up by Beaumont;
“Participation in the NRC will not only provide a superb performance pathway leading in to Rugby World Cup 2019, but it provides locally-based players with a strong alternative to playing club rugby overseas should they wish to remain in the Fijian system.”
The thought of a stronger Fiji side at the World Cup will send shockwaves through the rugby world as they despite being placed in the ‘Group of Death’ in 2015 showed their quality. This addition to the NRC can only bolster their performances against sides like England and Australia.
Positives for the NRC
This is undoubtedly a fantastic announcement for Fiji Rugby but it should also benefit the NRC. Whilst the action on the field has been fast paced and high scoring, the tournament has not drawn in the size of crowds it would have hoped. The addition of a Fiji team will help to connect with the large communities who already live in Australia. Something that ARU CEO Bill Pulver hopes for;
“The Fiji brand of Rugby is arguably the most exciting brand of Rugby in the world and their inclusion in the Buildcorp NRC will enhance the competition both in terms of the quality of Rugby and by adding a huge amount of support and interest from the Fijian communities both in Fiji and here in Australia.”
Super Rugby the Final Frontier
This will no doubt benefit Fiji Rugby hugely in the long run and it may well be a move towards the introduction of Pacific Islands team into Super Rugby. As SANZAAR continues to look to expand into new markets this move by the ARU might be the sign of good things to come. A player drain overseas has affected Fiji for too long. They now have the opportunity to write their own future in world rugby.
Quotes courtesy of official ARU Media Release